If Clare County Council were a private company, it would be insolvent and its directors fired, Councillor PJ Kelly claimed at this week’s meeting of the local authority.
He made his comments while discussing legal costs incurred by the council, having sought information about costs awarded to and against the council regarding court proceedings over the last five years.
The information he sought was not available and a written reply said it “will take time to compile this information and, should the councillor require, this information can be collated over the coming weeks”.
Councillor Kelly said the council has “very scarce finances” currently, while he noted that €100,000 had been spent on the council’s entrance door. He added that the council is open for 250 days in the year and that the legal expenses incurred averages at in excess of €3,000 per day.
“That would be high wages for 15 people; I can’t accept that it is justified,” he commented.
The Lissycasey man asked if there is under-performance and also asked, “Are there legal messes we don’t know about and are not told about?”
Councillor Kelly said there was a temptation to mention the expenditure incurred in other counties but settled for hinting at the position. “Suffice to say, it is substantially less.”
Independent, Christy Curtin said more information on the topic should have been available. “It’s not a direct service to people, it’s an indirect service and we must see value for money.”
Director of service, Ger Dollard tried to explain some of the difficulties involved in preparing the figures.
“Many cases are taken against us and, in some cases, we get costs and in some we don’t.”
He referred to one case taken against the former Ennis Town Council, which led to a bill of hundreds of thousands of euro. While costs were awarded to the council, he said they haven’t been paid yet.
“Being awarded costs is one step; getting them is an even bigger step.”
Concluding the debate, Councillor Kelly said he was determined to get to the bottom of the council’s legal spending.
“The matter is on the agenda and it’s not coming off. Many services are starved, while we spend amounts that would not be tolerated in other counties.”
By Owen Ryan